Evolution of childhood

Really interesting interview in Salon with the author of a new book about how evolutionary psychology can help us understand childhood development.  Turns out the book itself is 900+ pages, so I’m going to have to stick with reading author interviews and any other article about it.   With yet another newborn coming in just under 6 months, I found this exchange quite interesting:

But as you point out in the book, human pregnancy is actually much shorter than would be ideal for the development of the child.

Babies should probably be born after 12 months of gestation, not nine. In the course of our evolution we began standing upright, and then started to expand our brains. But the birth canal, which was adapted to upright walking, was disproportionate to the big brain. We solved that by pushing babies out when they’re really too young.

As a result, they’re not very socially or emotionally appealing or competent when they’re first born, and parents often get disappointed taking their baby home from the hospital. It’s not until three months in that you get the baby gazing into your eyes and turning you into mush. That’s when babies start smiling pretty much at everything that goes “goo goo gaga,” and parents tend to fall in love with their babies.

As much of a pain as a newborn can be in those first few months, I’m not sure Kim would exchange it for another 3 months of pregnancy (perhaps she’ll share her thoughts in comments).  I’d take the trade, though :-).  Actually, this also fits very well with the theory behind one of my very favorite baby books and one every new parent should read, The Happiest Baby on the Block.  Dr. Harvey Karp basically argues your newborn is such a pain because they are, in essence, in a 4th trimester and not really ready for the world.  Our lives would have been so much better if this book had been out when David was born.  It definitely improved things a lot with Alex (less so Evan, who fortunately was a pretty good newborn).

Anyway, the whole interview has a number of other interesting tidbits.  Those of you with teenagers will definitely want to check it out as he has a lot to say about adolescence.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

2 Responses to Evolution of childhood

  1. Jen says:

    I second the Happiest Baby book … swaddling saved our sanity on countless occasions. I especially love the Miracle Blanket (http://www.miracleblanket.com/indexb.htm) which my mom continues to call the “baby straitjacket.”

    But, from a human development standpoint, I think it’s a pretty big leap to say that humans need a 12 month gestation because babies don’t interact much for the first 3 months. Not sure I buy the fourth trimester argument.

    But you better believe I’d rather be pregnant for an extra 3 months if it meant popping out a smiling, cooing, happy baby … unless that baby is then 15 lbs.

  2. Kim says:

    While I do appreciate the idea that babies need more time in utero, I shudder at the idea of a 12 month pregnancy. By 8 months, I am always ready for them to be born! I wish we had known about this with David though — I know it would have helped a lot with his fussiness those first few months.

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